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Australian labour market – staggering along with elevated levels of labour waste persisting

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data today – Labour Force, Australia, September 2019 – which reveals the fairly weak labour market conditions have persisted. Employment growth barely kept pace with the underlying population growth. With the weakness impacting on job opportunities, the participation rate fell which meant that the weak employment growth still outstripped the rise in the labour force and so unemployment fell by a bit. A decline in unemployment is sometimes a cause for celebration. But when it occurs under these circumstances – weak employment growth and declining participation – it signals a poorly functioning labour market starved of demand. The ony positive sign was that full-time employment increased but that was really just a reversal of last month’s decline. The fact is that full-time employment is still below the level attained in December 2018. Broad labour underutilisation is at 13.5 per cent. Both the unemployment and underemployment rates are persisting around these elevated levels of wastage making a mockery of claims by commentators that Australia is close to full employment and that the fiscal position represents something desirable. The unemployment rate is 7 percentage points above what even the central bank considers to the level where inflationary pressures might be sourced from the labour market. This persistence in labour wastage indicates that the policy settings are to tight (biased to austerity) and deliberately reducing growth and income generation. My overall assessment is the current situation can best be characterised as remaining in a fairly weak state.

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